Excelsior Springs Inmate Death Leads to $150 Million Civil Rights Lawsuit

A federal lawsuit has been filed regarding the case of Benjamin Chase, a 21-year-old who died on May 8, 2022, while in custody of the Excelsior Springs Police Department. This incident marked the first recorded instance of an inmate death in Excelsior Springs’ history. Initiated by Chase’s mother, the lawsuit claims wrongful death and breaches of civil rights, seeking damages amounting to $150 million.

Benjamin Chase passed away following an encounter with Excelsior Springs Police in which he was subdued and taken into custody by officers using a taser. As the Excelsior Citizen reported last year, Excelsior Springs Police Chief Gregory Dull said that ESPD had responded to a call from the Elms Hotel regarding a “suspicious party.” It was reported that Chase was wandering around the parking lot, approaching hotel guests, and exhibiting generally “bizarre behavior.” By the time officers arrived on the scene, Chase had moved down to the Fishing River near the hotel, and when officers located him, he appeared to be bathing himself in the water. According to Dull, officers gave Chase verbal commands to come out to speak with them, but he refused and began trying to evade them. According to the probable cause statement, as the pursuit escalated, Chase charged at one of the officers, resulting in the officer using a taser to subdue him.

The statement said medical staff responded to the call, removed the taser probes, and conducted a general welfare check. Chase reportedly refused additional medical care at that time. At some point during the arrest, Chase also freely admitted to being under the influence of methamphetamine. After being taken into custody, Chase was held at the Excelsior Springs police station awaiting transport to the Clay County Detention Center for an outstanding warrant. Although he had appeared to be okay earlier in the day, Chase was found unresponsive in his cell during a welfare check and was later pronounced dead.

The initial autopsy attributed his death to methamphetamine intoxication. However, an independent autopsy commissioned by the family suggests the possibility of an electrothermal injury due to taser use as a contributing factor.

The Clay County Investigative Squad (CCIS), comprising members from various area law enforcement agencies, investigated Chase’s death. Captain Jon Bazzano, a Clay County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson, stated, “CCIS conducted this investigation as they do all others: thoroughly and objectively. They gathered and analyzed extensive evidence, including interviews, video, autopsy and toxicology reports, and more. In total, approximately 80 investigative hours were dedicated to this case. The investigation ultimately determined no crime was committed in the death of Mr. Chase.”

Contrasting this view, the lawsuit claims that Chase, who had previously been diagnosed with various mental health conditions, including Autism Spectrum Disorder and Bipolar Disorder, was unjustifiably stopped and detained by officers for “walking while black.”

The City of Excelsior Springs, Clay County Sheriff’s Department, all involved officers, and the taser’s manufacturer are named in the lawsuit. While the family and their advocates seek further examination and justice, law enforcement officials stand by the thoroughness and outcome of their investigation.

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